Teacher, What Must I Do?
Ordinary 28 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 10: 17 — 30
In the three year cycle of meditating on the Sunday Gospels we come now to St Mark’s version of a brief but very beautiful encounter between Jesus and a man who genuinely wants to pursue the spiritual life. He was genuine, but misguided.
Our Lord has been coming south on the western side of the Jordan; possibly the town of Phasaelis is the location of the discussion on divorce, and the incident of the children. As He is leaving His residence there a youngish man of position and wealth runs up and greets Him with an exaggerated show of reverence: he may have been one of the government officials in charge of the famous date-palm plantations at Phasaelis. He calls Jesus ‘good’, probably in the meaning of gracious and benevolent: he has just heard one of the mothers telling about Jesus’ gentleness to the children. Such sensitiveness and understanding of the finer things appeals to him; he would like to be in the company of such a noble man. Jesus would not be asking anything difficult or hard; did He not indicate that the affectionate love of a child was the outlook required of His own disciples? (The Gospel Story by Ronald Cox)
Some Reflections On the Text
Verses 17 — 19
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt
down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what
must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is
good but God alone.
You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall
not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear
false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and
Verse 17 The man “knelt down”
He knelt and bowed his head in the Jewish custom of respect.
Verse 17 “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“The question implied a piety of achievement which stands in
contrast to the teaching of Jesus that a person must receive
the Kingdom as a gift from God in his helplessness.” (Stock O.S.B)
Verse 18 “Why do you call me good?”
The young man is not wrong but has to be reminded that all
goodness is a reflection of God’s character.
Verse 19 “You know the Commandments”
Our Lord chooses to bring to notice the practical application
and outcome of honouring God, the only god.
Our Lord is aware of the honesty and good will of this young man. Possibly he has the makings of a disciple; a few questions will test his suitability. So He takes up the line of thought of the young man, ‘good’ and ‘eternal life’. His purely human outlook and desire for a more perfect life must be replaced by submission to the will of God, who alone is Goodness; Jesus wants no devotees who exclude the Father. He then gives the young man a brief examination of conscience on his observance of God’s will, the commandments; to these He adds (in verse 21) the commandment of fraternal charity, the characteristic virtue of His kingdom. (The Gospel Story by Ronald Cox)
Verses 20 — 25
He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have
observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are
lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the)
poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come,
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he
had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it
is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again
said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter
the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through (the) eye of
(a) needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Verse 20 “Teacher, all these I have observed, …..”
St. Mark’s unique choice of a Greek word for ‘observed’ means
to keep or to guard. There is not attempt to exaggerate his “virtue”.
Jesus will bring him to see that ‘true obedience to the Law’
is rendered ultimately in discipleship. Without demeaning
the Law our Lord implies that to follow Him is to fulfil the Law;
which means to embrace in one’s own being, everything
God enshrined in His Commandments.
Verse 21 “….. looking at him …..”
St. Mark’s Greek word meant “gazing fixedly at”. Jesus is giving
this man His total and full attention, as a means of wrapping
him in His love.
Verse 21 “….. loved him …..”
Many ancient commentators understand this to mean Jesus
hugged and kissed him. Whilst there is no distinct proof of
this in the text, there is no need for it. Either of these, or both,
would have been perfectly normal in Jewish culture then
as they are even today.
Verse 22 “….. his face fell …..”
The man’s possessions have a greater attraction to the man
than does Jesus. He could not respond to Jesus who was
‘gazing fixedly’ at him.
Verse 23 “….. for those who have wealth …..”
Our Lord has a specific meaning and warning that people are
in danger of spiritual misjudgment if their trust is vested in
security they think possessions will bring them.
“Riches are not evil in themselves, but man has only a
stewardship of this world’s goods. Undue attention to wealth
is a form of idolatry and inconsistent with true service of God.”
Verse 24 “children”
Using this form of address signifies Jesus realises, in His
rabbinic role, that what He is teaching is hard to accept fully.
The term does not directly refer back to the “children” in
verse 16. It was a common way Rabbis addressed their
disciples in the time of Jesus.
The young man is impatient for perfection; he is ambitious; he wants to do something heroic. Like the Samaritan woman, Jesus has prepared him for the real testing: is he prepared to abandon the one thing in the way of union with God? If he is, then Jesus will admit him to the highest vocation possible to man: to live the life of God’s own Son. All the riches of heaven will be at his command; but first he must abandon those of earth.
Our Lord lived in poverty himself, and often counselled his disciples to do likewise, he had made it the first beatitude; he had spoken parables on the danger of riches. Yet his disciples were slow to understand; so he would emphasise it again, while the picture of the rich young man was still fresh in their minds. He expressed it in Hebrew fashion of exaggerated contrast: there is no foundation for changing ‘camel’ to rope (kamilos in Greek), or for taking ‘a needle’s eye’ as the small gate of a city. (The Gospel Story by Ronald Cox)
Verses 26 – 30
They were exceedingly astonished and said among
themselves, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is
impossible, but not for God. All things are possible
Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything
and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has
given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father
or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this
present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers
and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal
life in the age to come.
Verse 26 “They were increasingly astonished …..”
This shows the disciples really did understand our Lord.
He was quietly re-establishing the correct way to interpret
the Laws of God by breaking through the encrustation
to the true centre. (Stock OSB)
Verse 27 “All things are possible with God.”
Even the young man just spoken about can be “salvaged”.
Verse 28 “We have given up everything …..”
Peter is not focussing on their merits and virtues but
inviting our Lord to give them an honest view of their
Verse 30 “….. persecutions …..”
Even these are to be seen and accepted as a blessing in disguise.
There is a sudden change from sorrow to joy, as Jesus turns to his chosen twelve. He will change the world’s estimation of greatness by making these lowly followers of his the rulers of his kingdom on earth, the new Israel: ‘they shall be first who were last.’ They will be amply rewarded even in this life for what they have left; the new spiritual family of believers will posses a happiness far surpassing that of all natural ties. The mention of ‘persecution’, and omission of ‘wife’, prove that Jesus is not promising mere worldly satisfaction. (The Gospel Story by Ronald Cox)
Much preaching on this passage tends to focus attention on verse 22.
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he
had many possessions.
We might be inclined to off-load our moral indignation at the obvious clinging of the man to his possessions. Rarely do we hear reference to the sorrow in our Lord’s voice when he says, “How hard it is…….” He is even more sad than his sincere enquirer. His tone is not one of judgement but pity: if only the man had remained with Jesus in dialogue, he would have arrived at a new level of understanding. He had asked, “What must I do?” The answer of Jesus is to a more important question, “What must I be?” He was leading his enquirer to be free of the baggage that was holding him bound captive. The man did not realise that Jesus was offering him a privileged position and was also helping him to reach a point where he could respond graciously and benevolently; for that is the definition of ‘good’ that Jesus wanted the man to exemplify. If the man wanted to inherit eternal life he must reflect the image of God in which he was made. That precedes all else. That is the meaning of the first commandment which the man had overlooked. He could not earn eternal life, but he could have it as a free gift of God, provided he always acknowledged that it was entirely a gracious and benevolent gift of God to be enjoyed and shared in the same spirit in which it was given. Our lesson is one of great paradox and equally great importance. The wealthy man is everyone who will not let Jesus empower them with His Spirit of lovingkindness and magnanimity. Only when we do that can we, ourselves, be restored to the true and full dignity of children of God.
The disciples of Jesus then and now are those who believe
that God’s power can work in and through them. None of us
on our own can walk away from possessions, familiar places
and people, or security of any kind, be it family, job, or the
esteem of others. If we truly choose to make the seeking of
God’s reign of peace and justice the focal point of our lives
as Jesus did, then God’s spirit will empower us, and we will
be given any resources we need — vision, strength, courage,
Jesus’ good news was that eternal life is both now and forever:
disciples will receive a hundredfold now and in the life to come.
The bad news is that discipleship does not usually come easily,
it comes with ‘persecutions’. Growing in wisdom, in God’s ways,
in the discipleship of Christ, and speaking God’s word all require
strength and courage, which some of us only learn through
practice! Mary Betz.
We close with an ancient Hebrew Blessing
which has continued to be included in our prayer books and breviaries
since the earliest days of the Church.
May the Lord open your heart to His Law and His Commandments;
and may the Lord send you peace. Amen.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and
Good Teacher, What Must I Do?
Ordinary 28 Year B St. Mark 10: 17 to 30
1. The rich man in our story asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
2. The man spoken to by our Lord declared that he had honestly lived according to God’s Law from his youth. Jesus went a step further and politely but firmly pointed out that the man’s wealth had taken up first priority in his life. The man went away sad. Every preacher emphasises that. But if we look at the reaction of Jesus, He is seen as more sad.
3. Our Lord, nowhere, ever lays down such extreme conditions of being His disciple that everyone:
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Mark 10: 17 to 30
Ordinary 28 Year B
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down
18 Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? 3 No one is
19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall
20 He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have
21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are
22 At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he
23 4 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said
25 It is easier for a camel to pass through (the) eye of (a) needle
26 They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is
28 Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and
29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given
30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present
3  Why do you call me good?: Jesus repudiates the term “good” for himself and directs it to God, the source of all goodness who alone can grant the gift of eternal life; cf ⇒ Matthew 19:16-17.
4 [23-27] In the Old Testament wealth and material goods are considered a sign of God’s favor (⇒ Job 1:10; ⇒ Psalm 128:1-2; ⇒ Isaiah 3:10). The words of Jesus in ⇒ Mark 10:23-25 provoke astonishment among the disciples because of their apparent contradiction of the Old Testament concept (⇒ Mark 10:24.26). Since wealth, power, and merit generate false security, Jesus rejects them utterly as a claim to enter the kingdom. Achievement of salvation is beyond human capability and depends solely on the goodness of God who offers it as a gift (⇒ Mark 10:27).
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised